I think everyone’s got that one game they associate with a very specific time in their lives. I’m not talking about ones that “defined your childhood” or anything else so profound, though. No, I’m thinking something more … banal: your crappy date pick-me-up, what you played at a friend’s house because they had lenient parents, or what you bought because you hit your peak weeb phase as a smooth-brained tween and thought “this game’s gotta be good, it’s NARUTO!” Well, as we all sit amidst the national dumpster fire and reminisce over simpler times, I can’t help but conjure a very particular snapshot in my head: a time in the mid-aughts where I’d sleep at my best friend’s house every weekend, watch edgy cartoons on Newgrounds, and stay up late to play a game we thought was so rad, even if I barely knew what was going on besides abject chaos. That game? DESTROY ALL HUMANS!.
Being a wee bablet well before the game achieved cult status, I don’t think it was even possible for me to properly gauge the quality of what DESTROY ALL HUMANS! had to offer. Though to be fair, it’s not like it exactly presents itself as particularly deep: a sandbox shooter where you run around as a Jack Nicholson-esque alien disintegrating tanks and making people’s heads explode with anal probes to collect their thinky-bits. But with the release of a remake hitting shelves some 15-odd years later (cuz, y’know… money) and the current state of affairs already feeling like some bizarro reality, it seemed only fair to give the sleepover staple another shake and see if it was as enthralling as preteen me remembered, now that I’ve supposedly matured. And for what it’s worth, this quasi-revival is somehow both exactly how I remember (for better or worse), and yet more enjoyable than it probably has any right to be.
For the uninitiated, here’s the basic rundown: you play as Cryptosporidium-137, a blast first-ask questions later member of the Furon Empire who comes to 1950s Earth for two key reasons: first, to harvest DNA from the simpleminded human race for reproductive purposes, and second, to uncover what happened to your “brother” Crypto-136 after he crash-landed sometime before your creation. In order to further these ends, you must disguise yourself amid the hapless yokels, disrupt the local establishment, and when all else fails, raise hell as your little grey self while repelling both the Army and the legally-distinct MiB stand-ins known as “the Majestic.” Sci-fi shenanigans ensue.
Because so much of this remake seems virtually untouched from its original outing back in 2005 (down to reusing all the voice files and sound effects), let’s touch on the most obvious reworked element: the aesthetic. Simply put, the folks over at Black Forest Games have given DESTROY ALL HUMANS! a total visual facelift, replacing the muddy colors and “realistic” anatomy of the PS2 version with a more modern, deliberately cartoonish style to match its schlocky premise: one that’s got more detailed environments, saturated colors, and utterly exaggerated character design. And to be honest, that shift does more for the feel of the game than most people would likely give credit for.
See, part of DAH!’s popularity over the years has always been explicitly tied to its identity as a self-aware deviation, a little satirical caricature of the whole ‘50s Americana, “Better Dead than Red” mentality a la MARS ATTACKS! More than that, though, it’s a brand of levity that appears as sparse in the deluge of serious, miserable melodrama littering our entertainment media now as it did 15 years ago (*cough* LAST OF US PART II *cough*). And as such, finding something focused enough to string you along, but not taking anything about itself too seriously or demanding you elevate it to “more than just game!” is a rare treat. That feeling not only comes through in this remake, but is accentuated all the more here in the present by the ‘50s pop art pastiche given to the whole affair. Graphics may not be a major component to how most audiences determine enjoyability in the long run, but presentation most definitely is; and given how hard the game goes to make itself this campy homage to ‘50s invasion flicks and Atomic Age eccentricity, having the game look the part certainly helps supplement that vibe all the better.
As for how the meat of the experience shapes up, I’ll say it’s very much a product of its time; whether or not that’s a good thing ultimately depends on your tolerance for sandbox games with smaller scope than your traditional Rockstar venture.The bulk of playtime within DAH! is spent alternating between two modes: performing story missions, which are necessary for narrative progression and unlocking all the goodies in Crypto’s arsenal, and playing in free-roam, which is where you farm DNA for upgrades, complete challenges, hunt for collectibles, and generally just wreak havoc on the local populace. It’s a fairly basic gameplay loop, and one that definitely shows its age amidst a modern market, but it’s enough to keep this budget title chugging along at an entertaining pace.
The missions themselves are admittedly the weakest holdover of the remake process, not because they’re inherently unfun or lacking in that aforementioned campiness, but more because the old-school jank and lack of forward momentum between story beats just kind of ends up leaving them feeling short and disjointed. And even when you decide to participate in some of the new side objectives to make mission runs a bit more interesting, there isn’t much of a break in the repetition if you play multiple of these short campaign bits back-to-back.
However, there is a silver lining here. Given the overall tone of the game and some mild quality-of-life tweaks to the feedback loop (like, say, starting you mid-mission if you fail instead of back to the beginning like in the original), these little coordinated bits of carnage never linger enough to really feel like a chore: like that RICK AND MORTY meme, it’s a simple in and out, 20-minute adventure, and by the time you’re done scanning some hicks, deconstructing the military industrial complex, and seeing the newspapers blame it on communists, you’ll have got some laughs and a new toy for Crypto or his city-leveling saucer for your trouble to play with.
The free-roam mode of the sandbox, however, is where you get to see all the addictive bits of DESTROY ALL HUMANS! out on full display. It’s where you get to let out all your aggressive alien tendencies and flaunt your superior technology, running around in broad daylight throwing civilians into the sky with your psychokinesis or using your Zap-O-Matic and seeing all that crisp lightning turn law enforcement into human-shaped Christmas lights. It’s where you go to test your skills and knowledge of each of the game’s sandboxes with races, seeing how much property damage you can rack up with Sonic Booms from your saucer, and fighting waves of Majestic agents using nothing but the Anal Probe to the sound of a goofy theremin. And most importantly, it’s where you get to just zone out for an hour and have some solid, dumb fun. Which, honestly, is what makes this remake so special from a modern perspective.
Perhaps it’s just the net result of the circumstances of 2020 or my own long exposure to drawn-out, story-driven games, but DAH! is the type of experience you don’t get to see much of anymore in the mainstream. This remake harkens back to a time where you could just pick up a game for an hour or two, get in some indulgent catharsis, and not have to worry too much about keeping a record of revelations, or try to stay up on some arbitrary meta scoreboard. And when you’re ready to hop back into reality, you just raze everything to the ground and step out refreshed, ready to pop some bumpkin brains out of skulls again the next time you need a game-y fix. It’s a hard thing to quantify for someone who’s only really engaged in short-form content, but trust me when I say that being some light, mindless mayhem is arguably the best thing this remake has to offer.
The takeaway is this: the DESTROY ALL HUMANS! remake may not be some extravagant masterpiece or trying to make a grand statement like many games as of late, but what it does well is bring some good ol’ fashioned dumb fun back to the dystopia. It’s a momentary return of the cheap, enjoyable little timewaster, a revitalized relic with a good sense of humor and enjoyable camp even in these dark times. And sometimes, that’s really all you need.